November 22, 2017
Area(s) of Interest: Infectious Diseases Professional Development & Education Public Health
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is currently dealing with one of the largest person-to-person hepatitis A outbreaks this country has seen since the development of a vaccine, more than two decades ago. The outbreak, which began last November, has so far infected 649 Californians, leading to 417 hospitalizations and 21 deaths. The majority of people infected in this outbreak have been homeless and/or illicit drug users.
On Tuesday, December 5, from 12-1 p.m., the California Immunization Coalition (CIC) will be hosting a free webinar that will focus on the current Hepatitis A outbreaks in California and strategies for response and prevention. This webinar is available to anyone interested in learning about the current Hepatitis A outbreaks in California. For more information and to register click here.
Hepatitis A is a viral disease that primarily attacks the liver, and although it can be fatal, it most commonly causes fever, a general ill feeling, lack of appetite, and nausea. California's homeless population has been hit the hardest by this outbreak because hepatitis A is highly contagious and thrives where sanitation is poor.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), person-to-person transmission via the "fecal-oral route" − ingestion of something that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person − is the most common way the virus spreads. Hepatitis A virus is also hard to kill and is very hardy in the environment. The virus can live for months outside of the human body and most hand sanitizers and common cleaners are ineffective against the virus.
Last month, Governor Jerry Brown declared a statewide state of emergency to combat the virus. The declaration permits CDPH to "take all measures necessary to obtain hepatitis A vaccines and prioritize the vaccination of at-risk individuals in affected locations." It also gives EMTs the authority to administer the vaccine, outside of a clinical setting, to high-risk individuals.
"Vaccinating people at risk of exposure is the most effective tool we have to prevent the spread of hepatitis A infection during an outbreak," said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Karen Smith, M.D. CDPH has already distributed nearly 80,000 doses of the hepatitis A vaccine. Public health officials area also working with impacted counties to monitor the outbreak and is providing guidance on improving sanitation, including access to handwashing facilities and toilets, to lessen the spread of the virus.
According to CDPH, the general public is not at increased risk of contracting the virus because it is focused in specific parts of the state and in a very specific community. California public health officials are only recommending vaccination for people in affected areas who are homeless or using illicit drugs and people who have frequent, close contact with at-risk populations in affected areas.
For information on the current status of the California hepatitis A outbreak, visit the CDPH website.